It is tempting to see the bog that has been erected in front of Union Station as some sort of metaphor: Our government is, you know, bogged down.
But that would do a disservice to the cranberry, a versatile fruit that is, the hip wader-wearing cranberry growers tell me, tasty, healthy and native to this great land of ours. The cranberry bog is not a metaphor for government dysfunction, but for harvest, for cornucopia, for Thanksgiving.
Plus, did you know that Ocean Spray is coming out with Greek yogurt-covered Craisins?
Ocean Spray, the cooperative of more than 600 cranberry growers, is behind the temporary bog. It set the bog up Monday night, resting a rubber pool liner between trays planted with cranberry vines. (Cranberries grow on vines. Who knew?) Two thousand pounds of cranberries were poured in, then the tub was filled with water. There are approximately 880,000 berries, though unless you are “Rain Man,” I don’t suggest you count them.
The overall effect is like a crimson carpet, gently undulating in the sunshine.
“It’s funny,” says Sharon Newcomb, brand communication specialist with Ocean Spray. “When there aren’t growers in there, people just walk past. They think it’s a mosaic.”
To register in our minds as a cranberry bog, there must be someone up to his or her knees in the water, preferably holding a long-handled cranberry-pushing tool, someone like Neva Moore, who with her husband grows 60 acres of cranberries on the family farm in Burlington County, N.J. She is talking about the fruit to anyone who walks past.
What is a cranberry bog, anyway?
“There is a misconception that the cranberry grows in the water,” Neva says. “It doesn’t. We flood the fields from our reservoirs and our wells.”
Because there’s an air pocket inside, cranberries float. They rise to the surface of the water and are skimmed off and scooped up by machines. The cranberry bog — made famous by those gently humorous Ocean Spray commercials — is a human invention designed to make the berries easier to harvest.
I don’t know why I’m a little disappointed to learn this. I always thought the bog was some sort of natural thing, as ancient as the tides.
But I should just be impressed by how adaptable the cranberry is. Ocean Spray scientists are working to add it to everything.
There is the Craisin, of course. It is created by squeezing the juice from cranberries, adding sugar, then reinfusing the raisin-like hull with the liquid. The Craisin can be enrobed in chocolate or in Greek yogurt, the latest food craze.
The cranberry’s liquid essence is like a universal donor, used to create various juices: Cran-Grape, Cran-Apple, Cran-Lemonade.
Eighty percent of the cranberry crop is consumed in the United States, but Ocean Spray is extending its reach into foreign markets, tailoring products to meet local tastes. In England, you can get cranberry-black currant juice. In Mexico, you can get cranberry-mango juice. Ocean Spray marketers are working in China to figure out ways of incorporating the fruit into that cuisine. (Cranberry-bear bile juice?)
Ocean Spray’s portable, traveling bog was launched nine years ago. It’s been in New York and Chicago. A sister bog is on display at Epcot Center for a food show. This is the first time it’s been in Washington. It is erected just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, wherein sits a Congress divided.
Of course, the humble cranberry can be divisive, too: canned sauce vs. homemade, the uniform red cylinder — what is known as a “jellied sauce log” — vs. the kind with little bits of recognizable berry in it.
“That’s the great debate,” Sharon says.
Ocean Spray research reveals that 70 percent of consumers prefer the log. So attached are many Americans to it that small changes in the can have been known to spark outrage.
“We get letters from people saying the can doesn’t have as many ridges as it used to,” Sharon says. “They would say, ‘But I cut it by the ridges.’ ”
Others complained that it was harder to remove the log in one perfect, unbroken piece. Ocean Spray fiddled around with the canning process to fix that.
Photos in the company archives show how some Americans used to serve the log: by decorating it with sliced almonds.
“It looked like a porcupine,” Sharon says.
Hopefully, the government shutdown will be over by Thanksgiving. And perhaps our elected leaders can take a cue from what will appear on tables all over the nation: both kinds of cranberry sauce, something for everyone.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.